Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passed – barely. Natasha and Wanda are sort of talking to each other in a group conversation about their current mission.
Racial Bechdel Test: Passed. Rhodes and Sam are talking directly to each other in a group discussion about the Sokovia Accords. T’Chaka and T’Challa are having a short father-son-moment before the congress in Vienna.
Mako Mori Test: ….ahahahahaha …no. Yes, it’s still technically a Captain America flick, but seeing as Tony, Bucky and T’Challa got their arcs in addition to Steve, when we’ve never seen T’Challa before and Bucky was a villain the last time we saw him, it’s still somewhat annoying to see this trend continued, especially after Winter Soldier gave so much room to Natasha and her way of dealing with the situation in a film that wasn’t hers. Plus, it seems the writers have no clue what to do with Wanda, either, and she of all people could have used a nice character arc from who she was in Age of Ultron to who she needs to be as an Avenger. Especially in light of what the film is about.
So, with the score out of the way and only two of the three lowest bars cleared, let’s get to the review proper.
Minor spoilers to follow, but nothing that wasn’t given away in the trailers or the after credits scenes of previous films.
Captain America: Civil War is a perfectly entertaining film. That said, it isn’t as good as it could have been. In part, I think, this is due to the writers not really knowing what to do with a large cast of characters. They did well in Winter Soldier, when their main cast was Sam, Steve and Natasha, and everyone else was relegated to supporting cast, but with a main cast as bloated as Civil War’s, they met the limits of their writing skills. The other big factor here is that the MCU’s first big story arc is nearing it’s conclusion. We’re close to Infinity War and thus the likely departure of many core Avengers (either because their contract is up or because someone needs to die in a film that’s ostensibly about a war on a cosmic scale). So the characters who will be left need to still be present in our memory, and appear in a film every now and then. Thus, we got not only Hawkeye back from ‘retirement’, but also Agent 13 and a random Ant-Man, plus introductions for Spider-Man (because we haven’t got enough Spider-Man yet) and Black Panther. Out of those, only Black Panther has any business being in this film in a larger role. Agent 13 at least has a role that justifies her presence in the plot (to a degree, anyway), and Hawkeye can maybe be justified, if you squint, but then his role makes Ant-Man’s completely unnecessary. Spider-Man doesn’t need to be in this film at all, neither for the plot nor for an introduction. We know who he is. He doesn’t need introducing, especially since they’ve gone with Peter Parker again, and we all know that dude well enough by now. That Joss Whedon has written everyone into a corner with a really overpowered Vision who now has to be kept away from most of the action lest he obliterate anyone who opposes him isn’t doing anyone any favours, either, so he’s pretty much swinging wildly between ‘unstoppable’ and ‘completely useless’, depending on what the scene demands.
This inflated number of heroes makes it nigh impossible to really focus on all of them in a satisfying way, so the focus is only on some, making the other characters’ randomness stand out even more. The ones who get character arcs are, as I mentioned, Tony and Steve, and to a lesser degree Bucky and T’Challa. Everyone else is just sort of there. We can guess their motivations from bits and pieces here and there, but for me, there’s a lot of comic background that helps with that, and the friends I went to see it with don’t have that, so occasionally, they interpreted things very differently.
The antagonists/ambiguous figures are much too numerous as well and thus have too little screen time and influence on the plot individually to really have an impact on the viewer; some are downright wasted. Cutting down their numbers could have helped flesh out the remaining characters by allowing more room for their personalities and motivations.
All in all, with how chock-full of characters the film was, we had too little time to explore each side’s motivations. Again, a lot is implied, but sometimes in ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments. Overall, Team Iron Man comes across as arrogant and uncompromising, and Team Cap lacks any clear counter-solution. Which isn’t that bad, seeing as opposing another solution because you think it will only make things worse isn’t too bad a stance in itself, but going a little deeper into the reasons why they thought the Accords were a bad idea and how they could have been done better would have been nice.
So what did I like about the film? Enough, apparently, to still give it a relatively good score. For one, the theme was interesting. In a world where superheroes exist, should they be under someone’s control for the ever-popular ‘greater good’, and if so, who should that someone be? Here, that’s not explored through the usual hero-villain conflict, but our heroes are divided into two groups, so we can’t tell who is right and who is wrong from the get-go. It’s not a good guys vs. bad guys scenario, where the good guys are an audience stand-in and thus automatically right. The audience stand-in itself is divided, and thus, the audience is as well. We are squarely in the grey area without the film being grey and gloomy and broody about it in any way, which is refreshing in a superhero film.
What little we saw of certain characters was also interesting – namely, T’Challa, Natasha, Bucky and Wanda, with Wanda and T’Challa being my favourites here. They would have profited the most from more screen time. Natasha, we already know well enough to make sense of her actions (which doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have had more presence; more Widow is always better). Wanda and T’Challa, we barely know at all, and the glimpses we got of them in Civil War had me very intrigued.
I’m still divided on a few things, but as of now, I’m inclined to weigh them on the plus side because of the sheer potential they had. Like Bucky’s storyline and the aspects the writers took out of Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier run, which could have been amazing and a great starting point for a Black Widow/Winter Soldier duo film, considering how little we know about Widow’s past, and what’s hidden in a certain location could very well have Red Room ties as well. All we know so far is that Natasha was supposedly born in 1984, but also ‘traded in the KGB for Hydra’, which is odd, since the Russian KGB stopped existing in 1991, so what’s the deal with that? Lots of room for exploring her and the Winter Soldier’s backstory here, but wasted for a cheap moment of surprise.
Wanda’s arc is also something that’s super-interesting, but tragically underdeveloped. When Age of Ultron ended, she was fresh out of quasi-Hydra’s clutches and a newly-minted Avenger. She had just lost her brother, come out of a devastating fight she helped start, and was trying to find a new place among the good guys. Now, she’s suddenly thrust into this world where it’s not clear who the good guys even are, and what being one means. The first scene is hitting her really hard with this, and one should expect more exploration of her arc during the film. That doesn’t happen, save for two conversations with Vision that are much, much too short to properly delve into that.
Lastly, Cap’s character was coming along well in this film. Around here, he still has this image of being this unquestioningly patriotic figure that stands for the awesomeness of the grand US of A. Winter Solider started rapidly moving him away from that, and Civil War had him continue down that path. After starting out as a symbol wrapped in a flag and promoting a war, he’s now at a turning point after a difficult conflict about authority and how much power it should have, and it will be interesting to see where his character goes after this.
Those points saved the film from being simply mediocre, but they also served to show how much better it could have been with a little restraint, and if TPTB had refrained from putting characters into the film just so we wouldn’t forget who they are and thus taking away much-needed time from other characters. I was debating a 6/10 for a bit because of this, but the parts that stuck out so positively elevated it enough to give it a 7/10 after all. It’s still a trademark Marvel film and I still had a good time – it just could have been a lot better.
Maybe it would have worked better as an actual Avengers film. It certainly was a better one than Age of Ultron.